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Cultivating Word-of-Mouth Referrals

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According to a Small Business Trends and Verizon 2014 survey, 85% of small business owners say they get most of their business through word-of-mouth referrals.

Word-of-mouth referrals are the lifeblood of new clients for lawyers. But ensuring that a steady stream of referrals continues to roll in is not easy. It takes time and effort to build a base that consistently passes you quality referrals.

If you’re not proactive about creating a process for getting more word-of-mouth referrals, it just won’t happen. So what can you do with the little time you have? Try focusing on the following tips — they will help build and nurture your referral base, which will result in stronger referrals.

Make It Easy to Refer You

The easiest way to ensure others will refer you is by doing good work. But that is often not enough to keep the referrals consistently rolling in. Here are four additional steps you can take that can make it that much easier for others to spread the word about you:

  1. Ask for a specific referral. It is essential you create very specific “asks” that make it easier for those around you to recommend your services. The level of specificity can vary, but it should be more than, “Do you know someone who could use my services?”
  2. Give your referrers something to pass along. This can be simple, as long as you create a process that ensures you do this with every potential referrer. As an example, I know a website developer who includes a couple business cards in the same envelope as part of her thank you letter. The benefit of this offering is that people cannot forget your name or your business name if they have something of yours within reach.
  3. Send a survey. A survey is a simple and yet effective tool to use in gathering feedback about how your clients felt about the service you provided. In the survey, you should ask point-blank, “Would you refer me to someone you know?” If the person answers in the affirmative, respond to them with a message that gives them easy options to refer you.
  4. Remind people. Everyone needs a reminder now and then. You can do this subtly by putting referral reminders in your email signature block and on your website or blog. It is also ok to do this overtly through direct asks via email or over the phone.

Focus on Building Relationships

To nurture word-of-mouth referrals, you must invest time and effort in building relationships with the people around you. Go beyond asking your network of past and current clients, colleagues, friends, and family for referrals. Spend time with the people you know who do or can send you referrals.

Occasionally, take your referrers out to lunch and talk about family, hobbies, and more. Attend social events — not to talk about yourself, but instead to listen to others and show them you are interested in what they have to say. The more you focus outward, the more others will focus on you.

Stay Top of Mind

Out of sight, out of mind. It is as simple as that. To nurture your relationships with your referral base, you need to stay ever-present. Here are two sure-fire ways that will help you remain at the forefront of your referrers’ minds:

  1. Send newsletters. Whether you invest in email marketing or print marketing (or both), you should absolutely consider sending regular newsletters to your clients and colleagues. Email marketing offers a fairly cost-effective method of keeping in touch. Print newsletters help you stand out from the crowd — how many people get nice-looking, informative mail these days? Regardless of the route you take, make sure you are focusing on sharing short snippets that highlight your expertise. Do not push heavy marketing messages.
  2. Speak at CLEs and conferences. Showing your referral base that you know your stuff makes it that much easier for them to send potential clients your way. Be on constant lookout for speaking opportunities such as seminars and CLEs. To make the most of these opportunities, make sure you have ample time to engage with the audience before and after your presentation.

Reward Your Referrers

One of the most important steps to take in cultivating your referral relationships is to recognize your referrers. After someone sends you a referral, respond quickly with a thank-you. A thank-you email is fine, but a handwritten note goes much farther in showing your appreciation. Putting pen to paper simply shows that you have put more thought and effort into acknowledging the referrer.

You should also consider doing more than just saying thanks, especially for individuals who consistently refer solid leads your way. Consider paying a referral fee if your local ethics rules allow it. Or just send a gift such as a fruit basket or bottle of wine. (Again, check the rules to see what you are allowed to give.)

Whatever the form your thank-you takes, be sincere. A little bit of grace and gratitude can go a long way.

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Cari O'Brien

Founder & Chief Word Nerd
Cari has been providing content marketing services to businesses for over 15 years. She writes and speaks frequently about brand messaging, SEO copywriting and audience-focused copy. She’s the creator of the Connection Copywriting Method and the online writing course, Write that Site®.

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